Most of the more than 100 private security companies in Iraq open fire far more frequently than has been publicly acknowledged and rarely report such incidents to U.S. or Iraqi authorities, according to U.S. officials and current and former private security company employees.
Violence caused by private security guards in Iraq has come under scrutiny since a Sept. 16 shooting in Baghdad involving employees of Blackwater USA. The company’s chairman, Erik Prince, told a congressional committee Tuesday that Blackwater guards opened fire on 195 occasions during more than 16,000 missions in Iraq since 2005.
However, two former Blackwater security guards said they believed employees fired more often than the company has disclosed. One, a former Blackwater supervisor who spent nearly three years in Iraq, said his 20-man team averaged “four or five” shootings per week, or several times the rate of 1.4 incidents per week reported by the company. The underreporting of shooting incidents was routine in Iraq, according to this former guard.
“The thing is, even the good companies, how many bad incidents occurred where guys involved didn’t say anything, because they didn’t want to be questioned, or have any downtime today to have to go over what happened yesterday?” he said. “I’m sure there were some companies that just didn’t report anything.”
The former Blackwater guards and other private security guards spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns they would be unable to obtain future employment in the security industry. In addition, Blackwater employees reportedly sign an agreement pledging not to divulge confidential information; violations can result in a $250,000 fine imposed by the company.
Two security company officials familiar with the system estimated that as few as 15 percent of all shooting incidents are reported, although both cautioned that it was impossible to know exactly how many incidents go unreported.